Tulare County Board of Supervisors calls for better forest care

Reggie Ellis

Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approves resolution calling for U.S. Forest Service to take the lead in preventing wildfires

TULARE COUNTY – Democrats and Republicans may not agree on climate change but both agree better forest management is needed to prevent wildfires from decimating swaths of the state. It’s an issue the Tulare County Board of Supervisors has talked about for more than a decade and last week they took action to not only continue their efforts locally, but call on their federal counterparts to do better.

At its Nov. 3 meeting, supervisors unanimously approved a resolution urging the U.S. Forest Service to revisit its plans for the Giant Sequoia National Monument plan and Sequoia National Forest. Sequoia National Forest (Forest), which accounts for nearly 55% of land mass within Tulare County. Of that, more than 20% is within the Sequoia National Monument (Monument). Years of prolonged drought, bark beetle infestation, and devastating wildfires coupled with years of inadequate treatment of fuels has resulted in ongoing tree mortality that needs to be more comprehensively addressed. These lands provide critical habitat, natural resources and local water supplies originate on these lands, creating the region’s upper watershed.

In the resolution, the board said it understood the forest service has limited forest management tools and is tasked with overseeing areas that are difficult to access, especially in the winter, but said more work was needed to prevent the loss of additional Giant Sequoia trees and forest habitats, reduce the impact of wildfires on air quality, improve the watershed, improve forest carbon sequestration and minimize the threat to life and property.

“Action must be taken now,” the resolution reads.

The supervisors asked for more collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, the State of California and the County of Tulare regarding active forest management and ultimately requested federal officials to take the lead in the overall active management plan. Active management includes timber sales, mechanical thinning, prescriptive burning, and the re-establishment of logging infrastructure (including roads) which can also be used for fire access. The resolution was also sent to the offices of the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture.

Later that same meeting, the county continued taking an active role in managing its forest lands by approving a grant to pay for removing dead trees along county roadways to clear the way for wildfire evacuations of mountain communities. The $167,663 grant from CalFire, the state’s fire department, will reimburse Tulare County for its 25% match to remove 32,600 dead or dying trees near four mountain communities. Seventy-five percent of the program, about $550,000, will be paid for by California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) as part of its tree mortality program.

Jeff McLaughlin, operations division chief for the Tulare County Fire Department, said the $717,000 project will remove 20,500 trees from roadways providing evacuation routes for the communities of Pine Flat, Hot Springs, Johnsondale, Camp Nelson, Sugarloaf Village and Sugarloaf Mountain Park. More than 7,600 trees will be removed from county maintained road 50 (M-50) from Johnsondale to the Great Western Divide Highway. The Western Divide Highway (M-90) will be cleared of 4,500 trees from M-50 to Highway 190. About 2,200 trees will be removed along Parker Pass Road (M-50) between M-56 north to the Western Divide Highway. McLaughlin said more than 3,200 trees have already been removed from this stretch of road using previous year funding. Over 6,200 trees will be removed from Sugarloaf Drive between Old Stage Drive and Camp Drive.

Previously, Tulare County had removed over 10,000 trees from the areas around Ponderosa, Eshom Valley, Balch Park and Posey. The total cost was $686,160, or just over $68 per tree, a quarter of what the other eight counties on the tree mortality program list. Fresno County spent $364.58 per tre and Madera County spent $353.17 per tree.

“We have the most dead trees in state, but we have the least amount of dollars coming into our county,” Supervisor Kuyler Crocker said. “I hope we continue to be aggressive in seeking as many dollars as we can.”

A 2018 report by the U.S. Forest Service estimated 129 million trees have died in California due to drought and bark beetles since 2010, when the state’s historic drought began. More than a quarter of the trees are in Tulare County, or just over 25 million spanning across 831,000 acres. Four-fifths of the state’s dead trees are located in the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests, which intersect in northeastern Tulare County.

FEMA hours

Residents living in the areas hit hardest by drought, bark beetles and wildfires are now preparing for the possibility of mudslides and flooding. FEMA’s intake center remains in Porterville to assist those affected by the SQF Complex Fire. The mobile registration and intake center did announce changes to its hours for the rest of this month.

The center is now open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday except for today, Wednesday, Nov. 11, in observance of Veterans Day. The center is located in a parking lot on the east side of Tulare County Government Plaza, 1055 W. Henderson Ave., Porterville CA 93257. It assists survivors of the SQF Complex Fire, which includes the Castle Fire and Shotgun Fire, with disaster information as part of the ongoing wildfire response and recovery mission for FEMA and the state of California.

Survivors can register with FEMA for federal aid in one of three ways:

  • Online at DisasterAssistance.gov;
  • By downloading the FEMA app to a smartphone or tablet; or
  • By calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585) between 7 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. PST.

The helpline staff can also answer questions about applications already submitted. If you use a relay service such as a videophone, Innocaption or CapTel, provide FEMA the specific number assigned to that service when you register.

Survivors are reminded to keep FEMA informed if they change their mailing addresses or phone numbers so that their aid will not be delayed. To update personal information, survivors may call the FEMA Helpline or use their personal FEMA accounts they set up when registering for assistance with the FEMA mobile app or at DisasterAssistance.gov. For the latest information on wildfire recovery, visit www.fema.gov/disaster/4558 and follow the FEMA Region 9 Twitter account at twitter.com/femaregion9.

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